Come to think of it, Bennie and Bonnie were East Hampton royalty, like the news services are reporting all over the world.
But Bernard Krupinski and his wife, Bonnie Bistrian Krupinski, weren’t born in castles attended by fair maidens with privileged childhoods.
Bonnie, the daughter of Pete and Mary Laura (Babe) Bistrian and one of seven children, grew up in a comfortable household where the operative words were hard work.
Ben was the kid from Fireplace. His father was also named Bernard, his mother, Cecilia, who later married Fred Ackley. He had two full siblings, Sheila and Frank, and a half-brother, Kevin.
Ben and Bonnie were high school sweethearts — that part of the fairy tale is true. But Ben is remembered by friends not as the “Builder to the Stars,” though he had some high-profile clients and built his share of luxury houses. His workmanship was a benchmark for his contemporaries.
He was much more of a presence at the many commercial buildings he owned around East Hampton, wearing work clothes, helping to steady the Christmas tree outside the Red Horse complex.
“The last time I saw him, he was up on a roof on Newtown Lane putting down shingles,” recalled Lona Rubenstein, a longtime friend.
The Bistrian family farmed and mined land locally, selling off sand and gravel dug from land once considered near worthless. When the Hamptons became in vogue, some of that land became valuable real estate, and the Krupinskis, though a far cry from Camelot, became what one publication called “The First Family Of East Hampton.”
They developed a taste for fine foods and owned or co-owned some of the best restaurants in East Hampton, including The 1770 House and East Hampton Point, a complex that also housed a marina and a luxury boutique motel. They enjoyed flying as well, and Ben opened up a small charter business out of East Hampton Airport in the 1980s.
The news of their deaths hit hard. Many of their friends, family, co-workers, and those whose lives they touched with their generosity actually saw or heard the band of intense weather with squall-like winds and devastating lightning as it came through town.
The bad news rolled through like a plague: Bonnie, 70, Ben 70, their grandson, William Maerov, 22, and pilot Jon Dollard, 47, were in Ben’s beloved Piper PA-31 Navajo off Indian Wells Beach when it went down.
Only moments passed before phones rang and social media posts multiplied. The magnitude of the news was such that neighbors walked out their doors and ran into other people who had just heard the news. Many had stories of a friend who was able to get help because of Bonnie’s largesse, or a niece who worked at one of the restaurants, or a donation Ben made with the stipulation his name not be used.
Social media buzzed. “The community is indebted to Ben and Bonnie — two of the greatest humble patrons of our cultural institutions,” read a post from Guild Hall to the 1770 House site.
“I am sorry & so saddened by this tragic news of Ben & Bonnie & their grandson Will & Jon. Ben & Bonnie were always so gracious to us my condolences to their families,” read a post from Cindy Knapp.
“As fellow restaurant workers and members of our community we offer our support. We are here for you in any way we can help,” wrote Mark Smith from Nick & Toni’s.
“Their legacy is everywhere . . . they will remain in the hearts of so many,” another post read.
Kent Feurring, president of the East Hampton Aviation Association said he had worked diligently with Bonnie Krupinski on aviation issues. “It’s a tragedy on so many levels — on a personal level, for the community, and for the airport,” he said.
Bonnie Krupinski served on the town’s Airport Management Advisory Committee. “She was a clear thinker who could get right to the issues without wasting time,” Feurring added. “We are going to miss her dearly.”
East Hampton Town Councilman David Lys said he had known Bonnie Krupinski for many years. Lys got to know Ben when Lys was working on the restoration of the Amagansett lifesaving station.
As part of the fundraising effort for that project, the group sponsored a reenactment of the landing by Nazi saboteurs on the Amagansett beach, who were thwarted by Coastguardsmen on patrol. Ben and Bonnie, along with their grandson, attended.
“I’m going to help you get this done,” Krupinski told Lys. “Let’s do this for Amagansett.” And they did.
Bonnie was a big supporter of the after-school program, ProjectMOST. They also helped underwrite the playground equipped for handicapped kids at the John Marshall Elementary School, according to Lys. “They always did it for their hometown,” he said. “They were of means. They could donate to charities around the nation, but they really focused on their hometown.”
Ben, known to be a shrewd businessman, had a soft touch when it came to community. He helped renovate the Fowler House. He built the tower at the East Hampton High School football field. His crew renovated the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s Bargain Box thrift shop. His businesses sponsored softball and Little League teams. Bonnie worked tirelessly for the food pantries in town.
“They didn’t do it for the recognition. They did it because they thought it would be good for the community,” said a former town supervisor, Larry Cantwell.
“Ben and Bonnie’s influence and generosity reached every corner of our community,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Van Scoyoc. “They were fully committed to East Hampton and they will be sorely missed.” Van Scoyoc added that he was “in shock” at the news of their deaths.
Memorial services will be held for the deceased at a later date. Full obituaries will appear in next week’s issue.
Stephen J. Kotz contributed to this article.